The United States, Iran, and Russia don’t agree on much, but they found common ground in a joint effort to save wrestling as an Olympic sport. On Wednesday, just a few months after the games’ governing body recommended dropping freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling from the 2020 games, the executive board of International Olympic Committee reversed course, voting to reinstate the ancient sport.
Does the successful campaign foretell a new era of cooperation? Probably not; each country had a selfish reason to keep wrestling. All three were among the top five medal-winning countries in wrestling at the 2012 London Olympics; half of all of Iran’s Olympic medals came in wrestling events. So nobody should expect the rescue of wrestling to lead to a breakthrough on, say, Syria.
Still, the multilateral action fulfills, in a backhanded way, the Olympic mandate to bring countries together through sports. The desire to be part of the Olympics was also strong enough that the international wrestling organization made a series of long-overdue changes, including naming women to its governing body for the first time. (Indeed, the decision in February to drop wrestling from the Olympics might have been intended as a wake-up call.) They are small steps, but show how the Olympic spirit can stir cooperation between countries and change in cultural institutions.